5 Reasons I’m Considering a Lab-Grown Sapphire

Valentine’s Day is coming, and during this time of year, my husband tends to be looking for a gift. He’s lived with me for many years and is very aware that I have a magpie gene. Yes, it’s true, I am drawn to sparkly shiny things. Always have been.

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Not sure I’d wear it, but cool necklace.

Armed with this knowledge, he knows a trip to the jewelry store will almost always result in me loving my present.

 This year, however, I was doing a bit more research so I could help him.

 Five Reasons I’m Considering a Lab-Grown Sapphire

 There is No Chemical Difference – Lab-grown sapphire’s are not like cubic zirconia is to diamonds. A lab grown sapphire has exactly the same chemical composition as a sapphire mined from the earth down to the molecular level. Yeah. Molecular level.

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Carbon. Building blocks of a diamond.

Some new manufacturing processes allow for the stones to be made much larger and eliminate most of impurities in the process of creating the stones. Seriously, it’s like science fiction made real.

And yes, they are real stones. Made in a similar way to the way they made by the Earth, just made faster. Only way to tell if a quality lab-grown stone is lab-grown is for a trained gemologist to inspect it under a special microscope and look for the telltale signs of how the manufactured gem was seeded.

 

Environmental Sustainability – Lab grown gems are much more environmentally sustainable. Not only does it take less energy to create one than to mine one from the ground, but there’s no long term damage to the earth and surroundings communities. Some of the mining techniques used to extract gems are horrendous.

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This is actually a very mild form of mining.

Origin – You know exactly where the gem was created. There is no worry about conflict minerals. If you read up on how many of the miners are treated, this alone can be worth it. They aren’t called blood diamonds because of their color.

Price – Lab grown gems are much less expensive than gems mined from the ground.

Colors – You can get a rainbow of colors at the same quality.

 I’m still not completely sure what I think, but I am huge proponent of science. I am trying to wrap my brain around why we wouldn’t manufacture all gems if what my research shows is true.

Perhaps I’m missing something. What do you think? Is there a reason you’d prefer a gem that came from the earth rather than a lab? Why do you think we still mine gems at all?

 

 

 

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

So, when I mentioned that I’m working on a romance novel, or several of them, I also said that editing them consumes much of my writing time.

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Editing is about like this for me.

Beth Turnage had a question on what I do to revise my novels, but it’s so integral to how I write, that I thought I’d share my process.

I’m not saying this is good or bad as every writer is different. As with most creative endeavors, what works for one artist won’t work for another. But here’s my:

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

1. Spend Some Time Thinking about the Characters

You’ll notice I didn’t say plotting. And I don’t. I wish I did, oh, how I wish I did! You may have noticed that I tend to be an organized person with a spreadsheet for most things. But I can’t do it with writing. Yet.

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But the plot will resolve itself if I’m mean enough to the characters.

But I didn’t say plotting, I said thinking about the characters. Who are they? What motivates them? Why do I care about them? If I’m really lucky, I can toss the characters around with my husband. Talk about them, about what they’d do in different situations. This is my sandbox time with them. Nothing is off the table. Sometimes, I’ll come up with characters and situations that lead to two stories. Sometimes, they bore me and I table them until later.

Honestly? This is one of the most fun parts of writing.

2. Write the Skeletal First Draft

I’m not kidding about it being skeletal. My first draft of the romance novel is very bare bones. Usually around 40k-45k words for a book that will end up being around 70k-80k words. I’m not sure why I write this way, but I’m not one of the authors that needs to cut a lot. Usually, I need to add more. A whole lot more. But that’s for the second draft. This first draft gets down the characters and what’s happening in the story. Mostly.

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Yeah, my first draft looks about like this

3. Take 6 Weeks Away from the First Draft

Yep. I now spend at least six weeks away from the first draft. I have plenty of other editing to do, or another first draft to write.

4. Go Back and Make the First Draft Coherent

At this stage, I read the first draft again so I have a clue what I’m facing. Then, I try to weave any themes I see later in the book into the earlier sections as I focus on adding all the stuff I skipped in the first draft. This tends to include, but is not limited to:

  • Writing better transitions
  • Adding details such as taste, sounds and smell
  • Giving a better insight into characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Many times, this draft will include adding entirely new scenes. In one story I wrote, it involved moving when the hero and heroine are married from the end of the book to the beginning. Yeah, huge change. But as I was reading the draft, I realized there was a huge plot hole, and to fix it, the hero and heroine required an earlier wedding. It meant using other things to “keep them apart”, but the novel was much better for the change. It was still a lot of rewriting.

5. Tidy Up the Second Draft

At this point, most of the stuff is in the right places. This revision has me looking more at are characters being true to themselves in dialogue tags and mannerisms. Tidying up word choices, particularly word repetition. I add more description, and I smooth over as many rough edges as I can find.

6. Send It to My Alpha Reader

I then send the romance novel to my Alpha reader. They are not a detailed reviewer. Rather, they tell me if they liked the story. If they liked the characters. If they wanted to see the hero and heroine get together in the end, and if the obstacles in the story were believable. They also tell me if there is anything unclear. If I have to explain a part to my alpha reader, then I need to go in and fix it to make it clear as I won’t have that option with a final reader.

7. Alpha Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my alpha reader recommended (usually all). I do another clean-up revision while doing this.

8. Send it to My Beta Reader

At this point, I feel like the story is pretty clean, so I send it to my beta reader. I only have one at this point, but she’s awesome. She gives me constructive criticism where I need it, but she also points out what I’m doing well. She does a much more detailed review, marking areas that feel rushed, transitions that need work, or spots that aren’t clear. She also makes sure my characters stay in character. If I get cheesy or whiny (which, I’ve gotten MUCH better about), she’ll tell me that, too.

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And she’ll tell me those doubts, too.

9. Beta Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my beta reader recommended. This sometimes has a few larger things to address, and as I do them, I do another revision of my own.

10. Detail Revision

This is the revision where I go through the work and look for word choice, punctuation, grammar, all the important things so that the writing itself is understandable and errors don’t pull you out of the work. I purchase Pro Writing Aid this year, and I am going to try that as well.

11. Final Polishing Edit

One last look through before I release my book baby into the wild.

I’d love to afford a real editor, but at $2 per page, I’d be looking at almost $700 to have a book edited. and that’s on the cheaper side. I’m sure they’d make my work better, but I just can’t afford them yet.

So, there it is. I will say that this is my most recent pattern. The first book I wrote after taking up the keyboard again is sitting mothballed, and that doesn’t include all the other ones I wrote ages ago that are also forgotten electrons.

The first romance novel I wrote that I actually plan to publish took a far more circuitous route to finish. But as I now have six novels in progress, not including the ones I started and kicked aside along the way, I’m starting to find my rhythm. It might not be perfect, but it’s mostly working for me.

If you’re a writer, what’s your process? Even if you’re not a writer, any tips or pointers on editing? Maybe you do something else creative? If so, what’s your process?

Protein Powder – Fact and Wishful Thinking

I have taken up strength training, and as part of the process, the nutritional information I’ve been fed most of my life kicked in.

Ever since I took a class through my employer twenty years ago, people have been pushing protein powder post workout. Not just any protein powder, but whey protein.

Up until this point, I’d been diligently following what that original instructor told me. The books I’d bought on the subject reiterated everything he’d said.

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No, not Facebook. Just my blog.

I decided to check with science and see what the actual demonstrable results were.

This was harder than I thought.

I read through the WebMD articles, but there were no links to actual studies. No published results. Just an “expert” giving their opinion. I was surprised, though I probably shouldn’t be.

There is a lot of really good information here  if you are a really serious lifter. If you look past the images, you’ll see that the site is actually quite impressive. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. The articles I read there were all very well written and footnoted.

Yeah, the authors quote real studies. They think about those studies and what they mean for their target readers. Seriously good site. I wish I could find something similar for middle-aged desk-jockeys trying to dodge osteoporosis. Interestingly, this site assumes you are drinking a shake after workout and goes into which protein powders are best. But, these guys are hardcore lifters.

I am not. Middle-aged desk-jockey, remember?

So, WebMD’s site offered a different opinion than the “expert” that my company had paid to come talk to all of the employees, and a different opinion than that of devoted lifters. WebMD’s opinion had no scientific studies behind it, so I dug a little deeper.

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Opinions masquerading as facts permeate the web. Have to check your sources carefully.

 

I found this: Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training

It’s from the US National Library of Medicine. Yeah, that’s a respectable data source.  I tried to read this article, but I’ll confess, I ended up skipping down to the conclusion. That conclusion states that certain proteins, consumed pre or post workout, do, indeed, have an impact. Not only that, but for building muscle, whey protein really did have the best results.

Sometimes experience, as in the case of those weight lifters over at T-Nation, has taught us a thing or two.

Next question for me, however, is does what I do really constitute the level of exertion they are describing in the study.

Probably not. I’m a desk-jockey by day and romance writer by night. Yes, I’m strength training, but I’m not really “weight lifting”. Especially not like the guys a T-Nation. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m in awe. Especially after enduring my version of strength training. That’s serious dedication and pain over there that I’ll never have.

That’s okay. My goals are different. I’ll never be ripped, but I am looking to be able to stay mobile as I age and fend off osteoporosis which is a big deal in my family, especially for desk-jockeys.

As of right now, I am still using the powder after each workout.

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Although, first I have to get the scoop out. Why doesn’t it attach to the lid?!?

Not because I think it’ll help me build more muscle, but because of a less talked about side effect.

Faster recovery.

I’d love to link to a quality study on this, but for all of the websites that talk about faster recovery, none of them actually link to any studies that prove it. *sigh*

What I do have is my own experience. Maybe it’s placebo (the brain is powerful that way), or maybe it’s real, but lots of people who do much harder workouts than mine swear it helps get rid of jelly legs faster. Lemme tell ya, I’ll do a lot to get rid of jelly legs and drinking something that tastes like chocolate milk is not a hardship.

So, for the moment, I’m willing to let my quest for the truth rest and drink my protein shake after working out. Maybe it helps, maybe it’s all in my head, but for the moment, I don’t see any reason not to indulge a placebo. And, they whey protein I found on Amazon tastes like chocolate milk.

 

How about you? Do you strength train, and if so, do you drink a protein shake afterwards? Why or why not? Any other post-workout tips to reduce jelly legs or just the general aches and pains?

Happily-Ever-After According to Science

Why do some marriages work and others don’t? Why do some people stay in a bad marriage, while others will leave a relatively good marriage?

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I hated Romeo and Juliet anyway.

Some will say love. Romance. Soul mates. On the more mundane and practical side, people will say shared interests, beliefs and goals.

As a romance writer and reader, you often see the story end at the point where the characters are married and are now expected to live happily-ever-after. Or, maybe this particular trope is one where they’re forced to marry because of plot reasons, but by the end of the story, they confess their love for each other and then live happily-ever-after.

Either way, we end with the characters in love and ready for their happily-ever-after ending.

In the real world, more marriage will end in divorce than be successful. At least in America they will.

Yeah, not very romance-writer of me to mention that, I know. But, if I want to give my characters a believable happily-ever-after, I need to understand what leads to that happily-ever-after. What makes some marriages work?

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No, no, no, no, no!

 

Well, science has an explanation on why some marriages work and some don’t. It’s called Interdependence Theory.

Interdependence Theory states the following.

Rewards – there are rewards from marriage (or any social interaction). These can range from companionship to physical intimacy. Interdependence theory has defined them as the following:

  • Emotional – Positive and negative feelings in a relationship. These are especially important in a close relationship. Ah, here we’re getting to where love comes into play. See, you knew I was a romance writer!
  • Social – Or how you appear to others. Does being seen with a super model make you feel better about yourself? What about with a stripper? What other social repercussions are there from the relationship? Perhaps you have to attend a lot of operas, and you love opera. But what if you hate opera?
  • Instrumental – These rewards are achieved when a partner is proficient at handling tasks. Like mowing the lawn, building the kids a tree fort, or doing the laundry without anyone getting stuck with pink socks (true story).

Costs – there are costs to a relationship as well. Basically, for all of the different types of rewards (emotional, social or instrumental), there is a corresponding cost. So, just like there are emotional, social and instrumental rewards, there are emotional, social, and instrumental costs. Makes sense.

So, DH putting up with my annoying habit of leaving my shoes by the sofa where I kick them off every night would be an example of an instrumental cost my husband has to pay regardless of how many times I’ve promised I’d be better about it. Or going to the annual corporate party for my employer would be a social cost. Sorry honey!

Rewards Minus Costs  Should Be Positive – Yeah, not very romantic, is it? Sounds more like I’m building a profit and loss statement than writing a romance novel.

Yes, I’m sure I’m a romance writer. But science is seldom romantic.

However unpleasant it may sound, research has shown that humans keep a record, whether consciously or not, of the net value of a relationship to us. So, you’re in a “profitable” relationship if the rewards outweigh the costs. But, this still isn’t enough to keep people in a relationship. They have to be making “enough” profit. Kind of like when you invest in your 401(k) account. You only have so much money, so you want to select the investments that will net you the most profit for the time you have them invested.

Comparison / Opportunity Cost – Once someone has tallied up their total relationship rewards and costs, they will either consciously or subconsciously review their other options. Even if they are net positive, in their account isn’t earning as much as they think it should, they are more likely to end the relationship and look for another. This may explain all of the Hollywood break-ups.

 

Okay, so now that we know this, how can we apply the science to making a romance novel earn its happily-ever-after?

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Not the response I’m looking for, though I may have said it about a romance novel or three.

 

I want my happily-ever-afters to be believable. So, here are a couple of ways I can use the Interdependence Theory to make it believable:

1.No Alpha-Holes – A strong male lead could provide a lot of rewards on the instrumental level. He gets stuff done. But even if a heroine loves him, the emotional and social costs of dealing with him are going to be extremely high. Toning him back so he’s still an alpha without being a jerk would help a lot.

2. No Porcelain Dolls – Both characters in the romance have to be active. If either can basically be put on the shelf while the other does all the heavy lifting, you’re going to have a relationship with very high instrumental costs. No matter how much you love someone, if they can’t figure out how to open the refrigerator and get themselves a soda, you’re going to get pretty ticked at them after a while.

3. Opposites Might Not Attract – The whole wallflower with a super outgoing character trope might not end well. If the wallflower really doesn’t like much social interaction, but the extrovert loves it, there is going to be a high social cost to the relationship. Unless, of course, one or the other is the way they are to mask their true personality. The extrovert who actually hates all the parties etc.

 

What do you think? Does interdependence theory hold water in your book? Think it’s bunk? If so why or why not? Any other way that it could be used in writing to give believable happily-ever-afters?

When the Skeptic is Right

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a skeptic. If you haven’t been reading for a while, welcome!  Hi, I’m Elizabeth Drake, romance author, Gen-Xer, and skeptic.

One thing promulgated in most women’s magazines, beauty blogs, and general female knowledge is that to have attractive skin, a woman must cleanse, tone, use a serum and moisturize every day, twice a day.

Some of you are wondering what this stuff even is.

Cleanse – wash your face, usually with something other than water. Never soap. It supposedly is too harsh and dries out the sensitive skin on your face. Though why it’s okay to dry out the rest of our skin, I have no idea.

Tone –  This is supposed to help sweep away impurities, cleaning pores, making pores less noticeable, and  protecting skin. Yeah, not sure how it’s different that cleansing above. Not sure what’s wrong with pores, either.

Serum – Face serums are lightweight moisturizers that supposedly penetrate deeper to deliver active ingredients into your skin. They’re supposed to make your skin firmer and smoother, make pores appear smaller, and increase moisture levels. Again with the pores…

Moisturize – You add moisture back into your skin to fight wrinkles. Because heaven help us if we don’t look forever twenty. Especially if you’re a woman, though companies are starting to target men, too. Why leave 49% of the population on the table when we can try to convince them they have a problem so they’ll give you money to fix it.  Sorry, that was the Gen-X gene coming through again.

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All in, I’m assuming this is all stuff to give us that awesome “glow” that you see on so many magazine covers. Except, that’s not what they really look like either, and these are professional models.   I’ll save the Photoshop rant for another time. And, if you do get this picture perfect skin, I’m not entirely sure why you’d then put make-up over it. Tons of make-up advice starts out with making sure you have a good skin care regime. Clearly, I’m too cynical to be their target demographic.

And yet, they got me on the cleanse, use a serum, and moisturize.

As I was applying my dye free, scent free moisturizer, after having had properly cleansed my skin and given my serum time to soak in, I noticed my skin was tight. Clearly, I needed to moisturize. I even had a trouble spot I had been super moisturizing for months because it was so dry. Then I thought back to before I started using moisturizer. I was younger, certainly, but my skin had never needed it. Even when I started using it, my skin hadn’t really needed it. I was doing it for wrinkle prevention.

I decided to look and see if it’s possible for skin to become dependent on moisturizers.

This is going to shock you, I know, but yes, it can become dependent on moisturizers.   Chronic use of moisturizers tells your skin to stop making the sebum that naturally protects it. Not only that, but many of the ingredients in moisturizers actually promote dry skin. You know, so you’ll keep using their products.

Because of course they do. While I love research, sometimes it really stretches my faith in humanity.

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Or at least consumer product manufacturers

Other doctors claim that oil, including the stuff our skin naturally makes, isn’t great. It’s water itself that makes our skin glow and feel moist.  Our skin stores this water in structures called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), and the water is then sealed into our skin by the top layer of skin called stratum corneum. This upper layer produces natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) — amino acids, urea and lactic acid. You’ll notice these same ingredients on skin care products, and they’re supposed to help keep skin soft, protect it from UV light, maintain the skin barrier that keeps the water in the GAGs,  and regulate the skin’s natural exfoliation.

Problem is, all these natural processes supposedly break down If you artificially saturate the barrier layer  with moisture. This tells the skin to stop producing GAGs and NMFs, which means thinning skin, less water in the skin, and the appearance of fine lines.

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In addition, some doctors believe moisturizers reduce the skin’s ability to slough off dead cells, create an oxygen-free environment that acne bacteria love, and clog pores which leads to more acne and rosacea.

Yeah, sounds exactly like what people were shelling out huge amounts of money for the skin care products to prevent.

The doctors in the article I linked to above recommended a skin care regime that eliminated moisturizers, but add a chemical exfoliator. This is supposed to get rid of dead cells and help kick-start the skin making its own NMFs and GAGs again.

I went to trusty Amazon, and the number one rated product had over 7,000 reviews and was still at an average of five stars. It was pricy for an experiment, but I decided to risk it. I figured you can’t buy 7,000 reviews and not get caught.

I got it two days later, because that’s how Prime rolls, and I tried it out that night. It was runny, and it was dye free, scent free, and clear. It had no real smell at all, and at first I thought I might have gotten suckered and bought fancy water. But, I followed the directions and got it onto my skin, let it sit for a minute, then gently rubbed it in circles for another minute before washing it off.

My skeptic wanted the British doctors to be wrong so I could gloat here. But after one use, my skeptic had to hush. The dry patches I’d been struggling with for six months are gone. My skin is softer than it’s been in a long time. I’ve been using it twice a week for a little while now, and it’s done more for me than my standard routine ever did.

I’ll stick with it for now, and I’ve learned to listen to that skeptic. She may not always be right, but she’s wrong less often than you’d think.

 

How about you? Ever find yourself following a routine even if it might not be working? Your faith in mankind ever challenged by some product or service that causes the harm it’s supposed to prevent? Any insight into moisturizers, toners, serums, or exfoliators? Maybe some research I’m missing?

Why Skipping Chai Lattés Won't Help

Personal finance is, well, personal. Everyone has their unique needs and budget to meet those needs. However, the other day when a co-worker was lamenting that her husband said she had to cut out her couple of chai lattés a week so they could do a better job saving, I raised an eyebrow.

Now, I won’t disagree. I won’t give $5 for a cup of coffee or a chai latté. But when you think about it, is a chai latté habit really the lynchpin to savings?

I’m no expert on personal finance, and this shouldn’t be construed as “advice”, but a  bit of research from experts may change your mind.

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I’m going to argue “no”. At $5 a piece, having a latté five days a week means you’re looking at $25 a week and $100 a month. Significant, yes, and probably a good thing to make a Saturday treat rather than a daily ritual, but not exactly the key to retirement.

Even then, it only contributes to savings if you take every dime you are saving from not buying those lattés and actually saving it.  Meaning, it goes directly into a bank account or to pay down debt. If you cut them out, but then spend the money on something else, you haven’t saved anything.

This why shopping a sale and “saving” 50% isn’t really saving. Not unless you would’ve spent the full amount anyway, and you then put the amount you “saved” into the bank.

The three main things most America spend their money on are food, housing, and transportation.  Not necessarily in that order, as it depends where you live, your income, and what phase of life you’re in as to what eats the largest part of your check. But for most of us, it’s still these three things.

 

Housing

Housing is the single largest expenditure for most Americans. A part of me wonders how much of this has to do with Americans buying far more house than they actually need. Certainly, if you live in New York City, there is no way to not spend a fortune. A 750 square foot one bedroom apartment runs over $3,000 a month. But if you live in the rust belt (excluding Chicago ) like I do? Well, this is where it gets tricky.

There is a tax incentive to buy a larger and more expensive home. For example, if you have a $100,000 mortgage at 5%, you pay $5,000 in interest for that year. Most people will be able to write off $1,250 from their taxes that year, making the interest only $3,750.

If you have a $200,000 mortgage at 5%, you’re writing off $2,500. A $500,000 mortgage means $6,250 in tax savings.

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What this forgets, however, is you are still paying the interest on this and the principal. Sure, you own a more expensive house (maybe bigger, depending on location), but you’re still paying more in interest. Sometimes, a lot more. Plus, you’re paying for the principal, and that isn’t tax deductible.

Your monthly payments for these mortgages over 30 years are as follows:

  • $100,000 house – $536.82
  • $200,000 house – $1,073.64
  • $500,000 house – $2,684.11

So, yeah, you’re getting some nice tax savings, but you have to be able to afford the mortgage payment first.

But a house is a great investment, right? At the very least, you should be able to recoup the principal plus a nice return. Not necessarily. Nobel-prize winning economists don’t think so.

Still, it’s hard to compare investing in stocks versus a house as you get to live in your house. But, it begs the question, could you do with less house and put the difference into the wealth-generating power of the stock market?

You’ll also note that the comparison between owning a home and owning stocks doesn’t do a great job of taking into account several things:

  • Dividends from stocks,
  • Tax ramifications of capital gains, property taxes, or  selling a home.
  • Risk from lack of liquidity
  • Hidden costs of having a larger, more expensive home.

Let’s talk about the last two for a minute.

Risk from lack of liquidity comes from having a home that you must find a buyer for. If you own S&P 500 stocks, finding a buyer is very easy. These are heavily traded stocks and there is an entire exchange set-up to trade them. A house is a harder thing to sell. Location matters, and things can change over time. The factory that once employed 6,000 people is now gone. Maybe you’re facing urban creep. Or maybe you didn’t mind a small yard (less to take care of), but you’re in a town with a lot of young families that want yards.

There is always a risk you won’t be able to sell your home, or sell it for as much as it’s worth if you need to move quickly. This isn’t an issue with stocks.

There are also some additional costs to having a more expensive house. Namely, you have to pay property taxes on it. You also have to heat it, cool it, and maintain it.  Replacing the roof on 1,500 square foot house is much cheaper than replacing it on 3,000 square foot house. There’s yard work, shoveling, etc.

I am not saying to not buy a house. Not at all.There are so many reasons to do it as well. As much as I hate yard work and am allergic to grass, I love having a place that’s mine. A bit of roots and permanence.

You’d need to talk to your financial adviser to see if it makes fiscal sense for you.

Whether you buy a house or rent, for most Americans, housing is still our single largest expense. I know I felt pressure to buy the biggest house I could afford when I started searching for our home. Just the other day, a co-worker asked me when we’re upgrading now that we have children. As we bought our home in a district with excellent schools, I see no reason to move.

 

Transportation

This is something most people understand, but it can still be very difficult to tackle. Most of us get that the longer you own a car, overall, the cheaper that car is going to be.

A $25,000 car kept for 5 years costs its owner $5,000 per year. Keep it ten years, and you’re looking at $2,500 per year. Even if you have to make repairs to the vehicle as it ages, older cars are still cheaper to own. For example, if you had $1,000 of repairs per after those first five years, you’re still looking at total cost per year of $3,500 for the vehicle over its ten year life. And in the last 5 years, your out-of-pocket costs is only the repairs..

Keep the car 15 years, and you’re at $1,670 per year to own it plus repairs.

Americans are currently keeping their cars for 11.5 years, and that’s expected to increase to 11.8 years. As car makers have responded to consumer demand for more reliable vehicles, we are in turn keeping them longer. This offers quite the savings.

In addition to keeping cars longer, it’s also important to negotiate a good price on the car in the first place. There are a ton of articles out there about new car buying, yet I’m amazed how few people read them. A car is most family’s second largest purchase. Yet, the number of people that buy on emotion never ceases to surprise me.

I suppose that’s what the car companies are relying on with all of their advertising. They’re trying to appeal to us emotionally and get us to connect with their car. To equate a portion of our self-worth to what we drive, so we’ll want their car to make us feel better about ourselves.

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Okay, yeah, it’s a sweet car. But where am I going to put the car seats?

 

I view my car as a means of getting the kids and me from point A to point B. I want the car to do it reliably and comfortably. Both cars I’ve bought I’m pretty sure will rust out before the powertrain goes.

Making the decision to buy new versus used is another area that needs attention. Yes, we bought our car new even though a lot of people questioned me on it. But as I explained at the time, the price I negotiated combined with the factory incentives, made a new car $1,000 more expensive than a two-year-old used car. We decided it was worth the extra $1,000 not to have to take the 30,000 miles someone else had put on the car when we put less than 10,000 miles a year on a car. But we thought about this. It was a decision.

Just like making the decision on the car to buy. Do you need a SUV, or would a car do? There’s a huge price difference between a Camry and Highlander.

 

Food

This is one area that I think is trickier than the others. Sure, grilled chicken breast with a side salad and sliced mangoes for dessert costs more than hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. But health is a many-faceted thing, and if you look at the graph, you’ll see healthcare is our 4th largest expense.

I’m not sure selecting the cheapest route is the best, though cutting back on eating out is a way to reduce our food budget and get better quality food into our bodies. If you look at the salt content at your favorite restaurants, you may be surprised. I know I was.

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Fueling ourselves with good quality food is better for our bodies, our brains, and help us be healthier and live longer

At the same time, this doesn’t mean you have to have those chai lattés every day, either.

As with housing and transportation, it’s about balance.

 

What about you? Any tips for saving money that have helped you? Do you find your household expenses mirror the same categories most Americans spend? For me, this was missing daycare which costs more than twice my mortgage.